The Mark UP

GOP Candidates’ Energy Distortions Defy Basic Logic

Mitt Romney has won the New Hampshire primary. That news doesn’t surprise many, since many pundits predicted it. What is more interesting is who landed in the second and third spots and the closeness???

Ron Paul came in second and beat out Santorum as the far-right candidate of choice. John Huntsman, meanwhile, had his long-awaited “surge” and came in third.  Now momentum shifts to South Carolina, with all candidates staying in the race until that primary is over.

No doubt we will be hearing more about the candidates’ positions on energy and the environment. While these issues haven’t dominated in the campaign, they’ve been a constant thread, featured in debates and talk shows. Sadly, few candidates have offered the energy solutions our country needs right now.

Over the weekend, my daughter and I were reading side-by-side. She looked over at my magazine article and saw a photo of a pelican drenched in oil, and said, “Mommy, you go and make that stop.” Even a four-year-old could see something was wrong with oil run amok.

The next day, I saw a photo from of the man whose job it is to measure California’s snowpack high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He uses a giant ruler to assess how much water our thirsty state can look forward to in the spring. As of now, however, the guy has nothing to do. The picture showed him standing in a dry mountain meadow devoid of snow.

We are surrounded by shots like these — images that reveal something is profoundly wrong with our energy picture. In the face of intensifying climate change and rising gas prices, we leaders to offer smart policies based on the facts. Instead, GOP candidates are giving us more spin. All but John Huntsman continue to pretend climate change doesn’t exist — despite several of them acknowledging it in the past. Rhetoric trumps reality in their campaigns, and we can’t expect any climate solutions to come from their administrations.

But the distortion isn’t limited to climate. In the GOP debate on Sunday, Gingrich conjured a popular Tea Party boogey man: mythical dust regulations. To illustrate why he thought the Environmental Protection Agency was “incorrigible” he said, “In Iowa they had a dust regulation underway because they control particulate matter… They were worried that plowing on a corn field would leave dust to go to another farmer’s corn field. They were planning to issue a regulation.” That may whip up the anti-regulation crowd, but it is patently false.

As my colleague John Walke, the director of NRDC’s Clean Air Program, wrote on his blog: “Let’s be clear. There are no EPA farm dust regulations. There are no such proposed regulations. There are no EPA intentions for such regulations. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has specifically disavowed such intentions in Congressional testimony when quizzed by suspicious Congressmen.” That didn’t stop Gingrich from hawking bogus claims.

Gingrich’s environmental falsehoods didn’t stop there. He said, “The long term answer to $4 heating oil is to open up offshore development of oil and gas, open up federal lines to oil and gas, flood the market… Under Obama, 2011 was the highest price of gasoline in history. It is a direct result of his policies.”

It is true gas prices soared last year, but the spike was the result of growing demand from China and India, political instability in Libya, trouble with refineries in France, and a host of other global forces.

If Gingrich believes more drilling would have made a difference, then Obama proved that claim false as well. Under the Obama Administration, companies drilled almost 21,000 oil wells in the first eight months of 2011—the highest number in almost 30 years. That’s nearly double the amount drilling the same period last year, and nearly triple the number drilled in 2009. Yet none of this expanded drilling made a difference to the global price of oil.

Huntsman was the only candidate in Sunday’s debate to give a nuanced view of energy markets. He said America needs to diversify its energy resources if we want to attain energy independence. “One of the first things I would do as president is I would take a look at that one-product distribution bias that always favors one product.  And that’s oil… We have got to disrupt that one product monopoly that does not serve this country or its consumers.”

Now I may not agree with Huntsman on how to break up that monopoly or which energy resources we should expand, but at least he is looking at the problem head on. That is what America needs right now. You don’t have to have a PhD in economics and you don’t have to write a chapter on climate change for Gingrich’s book to recognize America’s energy future is not secure. My four-year-old can tell you that.

In the face of very real problems like global competition for oil and impacts of climate change, we need real solutions. Not leaders who peddle in false claims.